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UK electricity demand returns to pre-COVID levels

Cold winter weather saw electricity demand in Britain return to pre-COVID levels in the first three months of 2021, according to data from market analyst EnAppSys. Total demand on Britain’s power market (at the transmission system level) across Q1 2021 was 56.0 TWh, close to the 55.7 TWh in Q1 last year, despite lockdown measures still being in effect across the quarter this year. 

The cold weather, combined with relatively low wind levels for a first quarter, also meant that a greater proportion of fossil fuels were required than in Q1 2020. Fossil fuels contributed 41% of total demand in the latest quarter, versus 36% from renewables, while nuclear had a 15% share, says EnAppSys. Of the fossil fuels, gas was by far the greatest contributor with 38% of total generation; a further 3% came from coal. 

The return to high demand levels, coupled with relatively low wind generation across the quarter, meant that the system was also often ‘tight’. Average margin was 18% lower than that in Q1 last year. The periods of tight system meant that there were several periods of high wholesale prices. 

Meanwhile, some 175 MW of photovoltaic (PV) solar capacity was installed across the UK in the same three-month period at the start of this year, according to new figures released by Solar Energy UK. This growth over the winter period brings the UK’s total installed PV capacity to more than 14 GW, generating enough electricity to power over 3mn homes.

Ground-mounted solar parks form 70% of the new capacity, while post-subsidy rooftop markets also continue to thrive, with 14% year-on-year growth in installations, says Solar Energy UK. Solar PV generating capacity in the UK now exceeds 1 GW, representing 7.3% of total installed capacity.

Looking back to the whole of last year, energy consumption in 2020 was low as COVID-19 restrictions affected economic output, leisure and travel, says the latest issue of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Energy Trends. Energy requirements for industrial use and services (eg, shops, restaurants, offices) were down by 8% on 2019. Despite warmer weather, domestic demand was up by 2% as more people stayed at home. 

Transport demand dropped by a more dramatic 28% compared to 2019, led by a fall in aviation demand, down by 60%, to a level of transport energy use last seen in the mid-1980s. 

Windy conditions in the spring of 2020 meant that, over the whole year, renewable generation reached record levels and contributed a 42.9% share of total electricity generation, outpacing for the first-time annual fossil fuel generation which contributed 38.5%, a record low. Despite low output from nuclear plants, strong renewable performance pushed low-carbon generation to a record 59% of the total. 

The data also reveals that Scotland has not met its 2020 target of generating the equivalent of 100% of the nation’s gross electricity demand from renewable sources. This target was set in 2011, when renewable technologies generated 37% of Scotland’s electricity demand. Today’s figures show an increase of 8% compared to 2019, meaning that 97.4% of electricity demand is now met by renewable sources.

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Countries: UK -

Organisation: Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy|EnAppSys

Subjects: Energy consumption - COVID-19 -

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